If humans establish a colony on Mars in the near future — and that's a huge “if” — Ben McLain wants to be among the first.
The Santa Rosa native is one of about 1,000 to make the first cut out of a pool of 200,000 applicants worldwide who signed up for a one-way trip to the red planet through a private company called Mars One.
The company is part of a growing commercial space industry that is seeking to push the boundaries of human exploration and creating a new space race.
Even if the venture, which has ambitious plans and many doubters, never gets off the ground, it poses an interesting, if, for now, mostly hypothetical question: what would compel someone to permanently give up life on Earth for extraterrestrial adventure?
For McLain, 30, a Maria Carrillo graduate, the motivation is advancing human society.
“My goal is to impact the world in as powerful and positive a way as I can,” he said. “Going to Mars would be the most inspirational and positive thing I can do in my lifetime. I can't think of a more powerful way to help humanity grow than by helping humanity leave this planet.”
Mars One, a Dutch company, hopes to put a settlement on the planet within a decade by tapping into human fascination with our closest neighbor. Part “Space Camp,” part “Survivor,” the company plans to raise money by staging an elaborate reality show and letting a worldwide audience help whittle down the applicants to 24 finalists through a series of challenges over the next two years.
The final two dozen will be trained as astronauts over the following eight years.
The company's website says it will need $6 billion to send a team of four to Mars.